“MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE” is a cookbook of festive favorites from the Junior League of Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana. Published in 2007, it holds the distinction of the Tabasco Community Cookbook Award for 2007.
In the Foreword, Neil Johnson (also the cookbook photographer) writes, “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its destruction of New Orleans, the population of Baton Rouge almost doubled and Shreveport was surprised to find itself the second largest city in Louisiana, a state known the world over for its dining habits. With the sad and hopefully temporary loss of New Orleans, one of the food capitals of the world, Shreveport has the profound duty to step up to the plate, so to speak, and help the State of Louisiana live up to its culinary reputation, and, yes, even raise the bar locally. In my experience, it is doing just that. Take this cookbook as evidence.”
Johnson notes, “They say Japanese eat with their eyes and Americans eat with their noses. This may be true, but, personally, I eat with a fork, spoon, my fingers, or whatever is put before me. I also enjoy photographing whatever is put before me. It’s like a big puzzle. Assemble all the pieces and then find the best way to put them together, piece b pieces, into an attractive imagine—foreground, food, flowers, background, lights. Prop that pheasant up. Fluff the flag a big more. Move those beans a bit to the right. There are myriad ways to frame each image and a shoot could go on forever, but you see where our creative muses led us.”
Johnson also comments “The capable team and I could have gone in one of two directions with these food illustrations. The first would have been to focus on the food up tight. The second, and the one we chose, was to back off and illustrate the food and the settings, i.e., tablescapes. Thus, we included the food, but also some distinctly Northwestern Louisiana scenery and Junior League members’ homes as backgrounds: azalea bushes in the elegant backyard of Minou Fritze, the hunt room of Judy Chidlow, the Cross Lake pier of Monica Davenport-Wesley, and the stately home of Kim Campbell and Teresa Meldrum. Also,” he adds, “because we were not up close and personal with the food, we did not have to use the fine art of food styling. In other words, we avoided most of the trickery that makes food more presentable to the camera, but at the same time, inedible…”
Johnson asks, “Why do I mention this?” and provides the answer, “Because after we wrapped each shoot, much of the food could still be consumed…and consumed it was. Oh, the Grilled Tenderloin with Blueberry Sauce was delicious as was the Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie, Fall Beam Salad, Shrimp Pastry Shells and Crawfish and Corn Soup!”
In the Introduction to MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE, the cookbook committee writes, “Whether you were born in Northwest Louisiana, transplanted from somewhere else, or are just a visitor passing through, you will most likely notice that there’s something special about our area. While you may not be able to put your finger on it, you will probably agree that it’s a good thing. Few things define the culture of a region like its festivals and food, and that is exactly what we have attempted to capture in the pages of MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE. This cookbook is a collection of favorite recipes intermingled with the time-honored festivals and celebrations that represent the traditions and soul of our home…the name Louisiana rolls off the tongue with a lilt that tickles the soul and conjures up imagines of a unique and fascinating culture and lifestyle well known for its deep, fun-loving French Creole influence. The heritage of the people of the Northwest portion of the state make up a rich cultural gumbo, which includes early American pioneers, African Americans, French Canadian exiles, European settlers, Native Americans and many others. With this mixture it’s no wonder that the people, traditions, and festivals of modern-day Northwest Louisiana are also unique and colorful…”
And because one of the purposes of the Junior League is to help make this community a better place, the decision was made to show off this community. Says Neil Johnson, “Thus we have interspersed images of tablescapes with images of the beauty and events that make this community wonderfully unique things, like Pumpkin Shine on Line, The Barksdale Air Force Base Air Show, Mardi Gras Parades, and the spring explosion of azalea blossoms….”
Johnson says it has been his distinct opportunity to photograph every facet of this community since the mid-1970s. Sharing these imaged with viewers makes the effort to create them worth it.
He also says “it should make the community proud to consider what the Junior League has accomplished, and continues to accomplish, generation after generation. This may seem like simply an attractive and helpful cookbook, but if you look closely and breathe deeply, you will realize it has been carefully and lovingly marinated with the message and goals of the Junior League of Shreveport-Bossier…” He adds that he hopes this cookbook will inspire cooks through this corner of the state and far outside, to continue the culinary traditions of Louisiana and to instill in its users continuing pride in Northwest Louisiana and the Junior League.
And in the Preface (some information we have shared with blog readers in the past but some things are worth repeating) – it is noted that “since the 1940s, Junior Leagues from across the nation have been raising funds with their cookbooks. The Junior League of Minneapolis published the first one in 1943. By the 1950s, Junior League Cookbooks were recognized as key fund-raising tools throughout the organization. Presently, there are more than two hundred such cookbooks in print, raising funds for the various Leagues and their community projects.
The Junior League of Shreveport-Bossier began its cookbook fund-raising with A COOK’S TOUR, in 1964 (which I have; I went right to it on my Louisiana cookbook shelf). The success of this cookbook and the introduction of the Red River Revel Arts Festival prompted the publishing of the REVEL cookbook in 1979. (I have this one too). Now, in the new millennium, the Junior League is proud to present their new cookbook, MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE.
As the title suggests, MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE pays tribute to the festivals and traditions celebrated by the people of Northwest Louisiana. League members, their families, and favorite local restaurants donated recipes, which were then tirelessly tested to make sure they were as easy to prepare as they were tasty.* To complement the festive recipes, a talented and well known local photographer, Neil Johnson, was recruited to bring visual flair to the cookbook. Finally, months of research and editing tied it all together.
(*Sandy’s cooknote – just so you know, not ALL recipes for community cookbooks are tested beforehand—the major exception to this is probably the Junior League committees who take so much pride in presenting letter-perfect and thoroughly tested recipes. Yeah, you will probably pay a little more for a Junior League cookbook—but in the long run you will find that it’s really worth it).
Each of the twelve chapters in “Mardi Gras to Mistletoe” highlights a particular month of the year and begins with a brief narrative of the history, festivals, and traditions celebrated in that month. The chapters are then filled with recipes that can be used to create a seasonal menu or a stand alone special dish.
And, (also from the Introduction), we learn that Northwest Louisiana likes to celebrate and you can find a festival in honor of almost anything, from flowers indigenous to the region to the fruits and vegetables harvested in the area. You can also attend festivals that honor the people who have contributed to the culture and history of Northwest Louisiana, ranging from the famous such as guitarist James Burton, to the infamous, such as Bonnie and Clyde. There is no denying, though, that food always seems to be the center of any Northwest Louisiana celebration.
This is such a fantastic cookbook that I can’t decide where to begin—the photographs! The holidays and festivals! And OH! The recipes!
For all of us who read cookbooks like novels (and our number is legend), MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE is right up our alley. Some you may want to check out? Vodka Snow or Champagne sorbet (serves 6 to 8) are perfect for a holiday party or any time. If you love asparagus (as do I and my youngest son), Asparagus Party Rolls is a great appetizer for your next shing-dig and the recipe makes 40 rolls. Jack Quesadillas with Cranberry Pear Relish makes 8 quesadillas and each one can be cut into six wedges and the relish can be made in advance. (I love cranberry relish and enjoy experimenting with them to make something different – this recipe uses canned cranberry sauce so you don’t have to wait for fresh cranberries to become available (*Although, I suspect most cooks do as I do and stock up on fresh cranberries when they are on sale and then freeze them). There is a recipe called Derby Cheese Torta that contains spinach and some chutney that is sure to become a favorite and serves 15 to 20. And for something different in a dip you may want to try Black-Eyed Pea dip (especially good to serve for a New Year’s Eve party if you believe in eating black eyed peas for good luck in the coming year. In my family that good luck food was – sauerkraut. But I digress).
For chocolate lovers you will surely want to make Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake or the Mabry House* White and dark Chocolate Torte. (*The Mabry House is an upscale restaurant but the house itself was built in 1902 and is on the National Register of historic places—what fun it would be to go there for dinner. Another decadent recipe for chocolate lovers is German Chocolate Fondue—only three ingredients go into making the fondue and then you can serve it with an assortment of chunks of fresh fruit—yum! Other chocolate recipes include Oreo Balls and White Chocolate Macadamia Crème Brulee, Black Forest Brownies, and for the children (or as in my case, grandchildren) there is a sure to please recipe for making chocolate play dough. The kids can play with the chocolate play dough and when they get hungry for a snack—eat it! And, only 5 ingredients go into making chocolate play dough –most of which I generally have on hand in the frig or in the pantry. (Also included is a recipe for making homemade non-edible play dough that you can keep on hand in a plastic bag or an airtight container).
Another white chocolate recipe is White Chocolate Raspberry Tart—only 6 ingredients but oh, it does sound yummy. (My two favorite fruits are blackberries and raspberries). And, look for Chocolate Zucchini Bread—sure to be a winner and great to make when you have a glut of zucchinis growing in your garden (This is a great recipe to make in small loaves that you can freeze when you have more zucchinis than you know what to do with—and have them on hand to give away at Christmas, with a little jar of jelly or jam). A few other chocolate recipes include Chocolate Chip Pound Cake, and Grand Chocolate Pie, and Andes chocolate Mint Cookies.
Now, I may have misled you into thinking this is just a cookbook of chocolate recipes—my bad! Such is not the case. MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE is packed with recipes sure to become family favorites—Heavenly Chicken Casserole, for instance, great for a small dinner party, Layered Crab Meat Spread, which can be made in advance, Pepper Jelly-Glazed Carrots (only 4 ingredients but what a great idea—one I am looking forward to trying.
There recipes for Louisiana favorites—Shrimp Etouffee, Jambalaya, Cajun Strata, and the famous traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. The cookbook committee notes that this recipe has a lot of steps but none of them are difficult. They also note that hundreds of thousands of Mardi Gras cakes are consumed at parties worldwide every year and a Mardi Gras party would not be complete without one.
There are salad recipes such as Spring Pea Salad and Orzo and Shrimp Salad, Layered Green Salad (one of my favorites—I’ve been making this for years) – there is Almond Mandarin Salad, and Rice and Peach Salad, or you may want to try Pear and Blue Cheese Salad. There is a Marinated Artichoke Salad or Oriental Asparagus Salad—just a sampling of the many fruit or vegetable salads for you to try. There are also some salads to serve as a main dish, such as Brown Rice Chicken Cranberry Salad and Pasta Salad with Steak.
I have an ongoing love affair going with salsas (you may have noted this on my blog from some of the salsa recipes I have shared with you) – but MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE has some that are new to me – such as Blueberry Salsa and a Cranberry Salsa…and in Sauces there is a Blueberry Sauce that I have made, and love This one can be served with Blueberry Sausage Breakfast Cake which is sure to become a favorite. In my family we do several brunches a year—I will serve this recipe when it’s my turn to do a breakfast or brunch. And how about Salmon with Peach Jam? Only a few ingredients (4 not counting the salmon fillets) and it sounds divine. And I almost always have homemade peach jam in my jelly cupboard.
One of the features I like and appreciate about MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE is that—as I have noted along the way—many of the recipes don’t contain too many ingredients and are easy enough for a novice cook to prepare. I think there was a period of time in our cookbook history when the committees compiling a cookbook seemed to think “more was better” – as in more ingredients, a lot of directions. Today’s cook is usually someone raising a family and holding down a job…yes, you know I am retired now but I spent 27 years at my last job, before retiring and by then my children were grown. I have the utmost sympathy for young mothers, such as my nieces and daughters in law, who work long hours and then come home to make dinner. MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE is sure to become one of your favorite go-to cookbooks. This is a well designed, heavily endowed cookbook containing over four hundred recipes. Isn’t that fantastic?
To order “MARDI GRAS TO MISTLETOE” from THE COOKBOOK MARKETPLACE, the cost is $26.95.
From now until January 31, 2012, the Favorite Recipes Press Cookbook Marketplace is offering a 50% discount on the cookbooks of your choice, to Sandychatter readers. You must enter the code SCHAT-HOL at checkout. The books ship from Nashville, UPS ground.
The Favorite Recipes Press Marketplace is a great source for finding many of your favorite community cookbooks (southern and otherwise). They have nearly 300 titles from which to choose and color illustrations of the covers. You can get a catalog by writing to the Cookbook Marketplace at 2451 Atrium Way, Nashville, TN 37214 OR call them toll free at 1-800-269-6839. This discount offer is good to Sandychatter readers ONLY until January 31, 2012 – so this may be a perfect opportunity to obtain some of your most coveted cookbook titles.
REVEL and A COOK’S TOUR are also both available at Favorite Recipes Press, through the Cookbook Marketplace and are $19.95 each-however! You can obtain all three of these cookbooks @ 50% off if you order by January 31, 2012 and enter the code SCHAT-HOL at checkout. This is a golden opportunity to get some of the cookbooks you want at a great discount price; to order by phone call 1-800-269-6839 or visit the Marketplace website at http://www.cookbookmarketplace.com.
Happy cookbook collecting!